Influential Brooklyn Retailer Bird Shuts Up Shop

The store on Grand Street in Williamsburg this month. Photo by Cate Corcoran

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The pandemic has killed another Brooklyn retailer. Bird, the men’s and women’s clothing store known for its interiors by Brooklyn architect Ole Sondresen and fashions by such as Rachel Comey and Dries Van Noten — and which at its height had four stores in Brooklyn and one in Los Angeles, as well as the online shop — will close by the end of the month, owner Jen Mankins announced on Instagram Friday.

“As with so many of our friends and neighbors, the ongoing pandemic has proven too much to bear on top of an already challenged, rapidly changing industry, and world,” she wrote on Instagram Friday. “[I am] heartbroken to post this news today. [Bird] has meant everything to me and has been the core of my personal and professional life for almost two decades.”

“Owner Jennifer Mankins said that dwindling margins, rising rents and direct-to-consumer competition, all compounded by the pandemic, made turning a profit impossible,” according to the Business of Fashion. The Texas-born Mankins, who worked as a buyer at Barneys and Steven Alan before taking over the first Bird shop, which opened in Park Slope in 1999, did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

Tributes have come pouring in from customers and friends, including prominent creatives.

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The Fort Greene storefront at 85 Lafayette Avenue in June 2020. Photo by Susan De Vries

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The Smith Street storefront Sunday

“Bird was legendary. You should feel so proud,” posted Simon Doonan on Instagram. Arguably a fashion legend himself, known for his provocative windows at Barneys, Doonan designed a window for Bird. “Been searching for the photos of the original window you did with the vintage mannequin form and the tutu made of postcards designed by @easternrodeo,” replied Mankins.

“Love you! So proud of what you’ve built and can’t wait to see what’s to come. ❤️” wrote shoe designer Jessie Loeffler Randall.

“Love you! It’s been one of the greatest honors of my career to get to be a small part of what you created,” said Brooklyn-based designer Rachel Antonoff, who has used Brooklyn houses as fashion shoot locations.

“Oh Jen so sad!! Bird will be forever missed #legend 💔💔💔” said designer Ulla Johnson, who lives in Fort Greene.

“So much ❤️and respect to you Jen,” commented The National’s Aaron Dessner, who lived in a Ditmas Park house renovated by Sondresen.

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The Park Slope store shut in May of 2020

Bird was known for its friendly and unpretentious approach, and luxe-casual indie fashions emphasizing prints, color, natural fibers and unusual shapes. Mankins blogged on Brownstoner the construction of the Williamsburg store, which although not the first, was the largest and became the flagship. Designed by Sondresen — the Norwegian architect has since moved to Italy — it was the first Brooklyn store to win LEED certification, and was large and airy, with a Nordic-meets-Brooklyn vibe and modern furniture upholstered in colorful Josef Frank prints.

When Brownstoner stopped by the Cobble Hill store on Court Street Sunday, it had shuttered a day earlier than expected. A sign on the window said the staff was overwhelmed and had to close the store to catch up. Online inventory was down to just a few dozen items by Sunday morning. The Williamsburg store is still open for now but will close by the end of the month, said Mankins, who had twins this past summer.

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A sign on the Smith Street store Sunday

The Park Slope and Fort Greene stores shuttered earlier this year due to the coronavirus. Gentrification and natural attrition due to retirement has done in a number of iconic Brooklyn retailers, bars and restaurants, and transformed Williamsburg, in the last decade. For now at least, the spate of design-focused shops on Atlantic Avenue in Boerum Hill, many recently opened, are holding on, along with the thriving Black-owned design scene clustered around Tompkins Avenue, Greenpoint’s mom and pop shops, and Brooklyn’s independent bookstores such as Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene and Prospect-Lefferts Gardens.

In her post and an email to customers Friday, Mankins left open the possibility Bird will return in some form or another “on the other side.”

“Pausing what Bird has been for so long is not a decision I made easily nor one that I take lightly,” she wrote. “I hope to be able to use this break to reimagine what meaningful role fashion and retail can have in today’s world. I have not stopped believing in the power and importance of expressing oneself through the act of getting dressed, and I hope to see you on the other side of this with a new vision for Bird.”

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The Smith Street storefront signage

— additional reporting by Susan De Vries.

[Photos by Susan De Vries]

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